Why were Egypt and Syria at the bottom of the Turkish government’s reconciliation list?
Turkey seems to be mending fences: the decade-long (and, in Syria’s case, bloody) conflict between the governments is apparently ending.
The last breakthrough was initiated by Turkish President Erdogan, following the failure by technical negotiators to reach an agreement on the last remaining file. Attempts to repair the relations between Cairo and Ankara had been afoot since the fever of reconciliations took AlUla by storm in early 2021.
The Egyptian and Turkish sides had reached significant agreements, but the reconciliation was only formally completed at the leadership level during the World Cup opening ceremony, which brought together Abdelfattal ElSisi and Erdogan under Qatari sponsorship. Seated between the two Presidents, the United Nations Secretary General was far from being a barrier. Both Egypt and Turkey had probably been preparing this for weeks, choosing the World Cup as the occasion in honor of Qatar, who served as the mediator between them.
But protocols aside, the Egyptian-Turkish reconciliation bears special significance, given its effect on some of the hottest issues in the region.
The conflict between the two countries had started after Mohammad Morsi’s government was decisively toppled in 2013. The late President had run the country with the [Muslim] Brotherhood mindset, which led to the establishment of a firm alliance between the enraged streets and the military establishment, thus putting an end to the Muslim Brotherhood’s time in power. The group’s shunned leaders found in Istanbul their makeshift capital, and from their new Turkish base, started laying the foundations for what looked like their project to reclaim power. Cue a diplomatic crisis between the two countries that only intensified with time.
For a year and a half, the two governments ran a series of meetings aimed at tackling points of contention, every now and then making great strides at the security and media levels, with Turkey putting an end to nearly all opposition activities on its territory. Yet it was still unclear why the two parties failed to complete the reconciliation, especially in terms of two dossiers: the disagreement on conflict management in Libya, where each party backs one of the two warring forces; and the dispute on the regional waters of the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt, Greece, and Turkey after the discovery of gas in what are thought to be large quantities.
Libya is vital for both Egypt’s security and Turkey’s economy, with huge debts from Gaddafi’s era still waiting to be settled. Therefore, the reconciliation between the two countries draws its significance from its potential to end the civil war in Libya, which is reason for optimism in and of itself. The Muslim Brotherhood, from their opposition halls abroad, will be the ones to pay the price of such reconciliation.
In contrast, the path towards reconciliation between Ankara and Damascus seems to be a long and winding road. Even if Erdogan himself goes to Damascus, like he said he would, reconciliation is still far-fetched given the complexity of the situation. The two countries have been indirectly engaged in a military war for a decade.
The Syrian ground is a battlefield for one too many forces: Iranian, Russian, and American armed forces, multinational militias, remnants of ISIS and al-Qaida, separatist Turkish Kurds, and the Syrian armed opposition, to count a few. Many of the regions outside Damascus’ authority still struggle in a continuous vacuum. Throw into the mix the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons, who must be part of any solution.
Everybody wants the conflict to end, but no one knows just how it will.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.